Definite and Indefinite Articles in Spanish, Non-Existent in Finnish

Definite and Indefinite Articles in Spanish, Non-Existent in Finnish

The Finnish language does not have definite and indefinite articles, whereas they are embedded in Spanish. These articles have four forms in Spanish, and they vary by number and gender. Moreover, there is also lo, a neutral article. Although the Spanish article system is not a particularly difficult one to learn, it can be tricky for a Finnish speaker. This is to say that, in order to translate them correctly, the translator has to be familiar with the context and divergent conventions.

Here, I will illustrate a few of these not so explicit cases from the point of view of a Finnish speaker:

Definite and Indefinite Articles in Spanish

Proper Nouns and Geographic Names: When the Speaker Refers to an Unknown or New Aspect, Use Indefinite Article

(EN: After the elections, we will start the construction of a new Europe.)

SP: Después de las elecciones, empezaremos a construir una nueva Europa.

FIN: Vaalien jälkeen aloitamme uuden Euroopan rakentamisen.

This case is sometimes confusing for a Finnish speaker, because the indefinite article is related to something that is mentioned for the first time. Thus, he/she is easily tempted to use a definite article here, especially if the Finnish speaker has a solid idea of this new Europe in his/her mind, even if it is something abstract and unrealistic.

Days of the Week: Definite Article When Referring to Past/Future

When talking about the days of the week, both in the past and the future, a Finnish speaker might find it illogical that Spanish tends to use a definite article to indicate, for example, the adjectives ‘last’ and ‘next’.

(EN: Are you going to play tennis next Friday?)

SP: ¿Vas a jugar al tenis el viernes?

FIN: Aiotko pelata tennistä ensi perjantaina?

In the Spanish sentence, the el refers to ‘next’, which can easily be inferred from the tense of the verb. The Finnish sentence is whole and totally understandable, even without ensi (next), although there is a strong tendency to use it.

(EN: At what time did you wake up last Thursday?)

SP: ¿A qué hora te levantaste el jueves?

FIN: Moneltako heräsit viime torstaina?

This example is very similar to the previous one. This time, the past tense of the verb refers explicitly to the past, and the article el cannot mean anything else but last Thursday.

Mass Nouns and Uncountable Nouns with an Adjective: Indefinite Article

This is another case that sometimes causes trouble for Finnish speakers, due to its nonstandard usage. Generally, mass nouns and uncountable nouns precede a definite article when used in the general sense. The adjective, however, complicates the logic a little bit.

(EN: People will never bury the hatchet.)

SP: El hombre nunca enterrará el hacha de guerra.

FIN: Ihmiset eivät tule koskaan hautaamaan sotakirvestä.

Here, the noun el hombre is used in the general meaning referring to all people or mankind in general, and a definite article precedes the noun. Finnish uses plural ihmiset,but an uncountable noun such as ihmiskunta is also possible.

(EN: My grandmother’s bakery bakes the most delicious bread.)

SP: En la panadería de mi abuela se hace un pan muy rico.

FIN: Isoäitini leipomo leipoo mitä herkullisinta leipää.

Now the article in Spanish can be indefinite, as the noun is no longer used in the general sense, but instead it represents a manifestation or a special type of a substance or characteristic.

The translator has to be familiar with these irregular usages, in order to produce a flawless standard language, especially when translating from Finnish into Spanish.

About Anna Huotari

I am a Finnish native speaker currently living in Madrid, Spain. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish philology and Master of Arts in political science. I have extensive experience in blog writing, content writing and translation, both academic and commercial. I translate between Finnish, Spanish, and English.


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